Woodcarvings, Passion Plays & Bavarian Attire: Germany’s Oberammergau

Oberammergau painted building

For the next few months, we’ll be hanging our (warm winter) hats in Oberammergau, a village situated in Germany’s Alps, where residents sometimes still sport traditional feather-adorned, green woolen hats and custom-tailored Lederhosen, while they hail passersby with a hearty Grüß Gott (literally ‘Greet God’) and warm smiles. Oberammergau is perhaps best known for its Holzschnitzer (woodcarvers), colorful frescoes (known locally as Lüftlmalerei), and Passion Play, which is held once every ten years.

Oberammergau Hotel Alte Post Detail

During a Black Death (bubonic plague) epidemic that swept the area in the 1630s, Oberammergau lost many inhabitants. As the story goes, Oberammergau residents pledged to perform a passion play regularly, if God spared them further ravages of the Black Death. The first play was held in 1634, and today, more than 2,000 villagers take part in all aspects of its production. During its five-month run, which takes place in years ending with zero, Oberammergau’s Passion Play attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all corners of the world. The Passion Play will next be held in Oberammergau in 2020.

Oberammergau woodcarving and building with fresco

In the last autumn weekend before winter arrived on the scene, we took to the streets of Oberammergau, admiring the frescoes (which largely feature religious or natural themes), the choir of the church bells on the hour, and the rolling green hills and their furry inhabitants. Though a few roses and autumn flora held on late in the season, it was apparent winter was waiting in the wings. Most yards were well-stocked with meticulously-cut lumber, and some residents were already donning woolen knee-socks.

Thank goodness we’ve found some delightful Bäckerei and cafés* in which to warm ourselves up with piping-hot pumpkin soups and crusty breads.

Gluten free soup in Oberammergau restaurant

Gluten-free pumpkin cream soup at the Theater-Café am Passionstheater

Oberammergau wood carved bears

Oberammergau woodcarving and building with fresco

Der Koeffl - Oberammergau

Oberammergau restaurant

Oberammergau home with chalet birdfeeder

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau home

Wood ready for winter

Oberammergau restaurant Oberammergau cuckoo clock

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco Oberammergau Fresco

Oberammergau fresco and roses

Oberammergau home with shutters

Oberammergau building with fresco Hotel Alte Post

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau painted home detail across from Oberammergau Cemetery

Oberammergau church and war memorial Oberammergau rathaus

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau homes in meadow

Oberammergau - Mountain Scene Koeffl  Oberammergau Frescoes

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau countryside

Oberammergau Mountain Scene Oberammergau fresco - Germany

Oberammergau sheep in countryside

Oberammergau Religious Figure on Building Oberammergau Goldschmied Fresco

Oberammergau Lueftlmalerei

Oberammergau museum door detail

Oberammergau fresco - Gruess Gott Oberammergau fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco Hotel Alte Post

Oberammergau building with fresco

Sparkasse in Oberammergau

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau Fresco Oberammergau Cross - Building Detail

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco

Oberammergau building with fresco

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • To learn about events taking place in Oberammergau and the Ammergauer Alps during your visit, refer to the Ammergauer Alpen site.
  • Having recently transitioned to gluten-free eating (which is quite a challenge in a wheat and whole-grain mecca such as Germany), I was delighted to find Theater-Café am Passionstheater, a restaurant that offers gluten-free cakes and soups. During our visit, we enjoyed a scrumptious bowl of pumpkin soup (which was artistically-adorned with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and cream). They were also serving a gluten-free buckwheat berry cake, and eggnog liqueur cake.
  • Print out this free card from Celiac Travel, to describe your dietary restrictions to chefs and restaurant staff while traveling in Germany.
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40 Comments on “Woodcarvings, Passion Plays & Bavarian Attire: Germany’s Oberammergau

    • Hello again Anyes – and so nice to hear from you, following my long time away from posting.

      In which city did you live in Germany? Yes, gluten-free is a challenge in this region and in a foreign country too. I’ve been learning lots of new food vocabulary and gaining exceptional willpower when I stand before bakeries and pastry shops, which have shelves of enticing offerings. :)

      • Hello again Tricia :-)
        I was living for about a year in Bad-Honef a little town close to Bonn. I was there as an au-pair maichen and got to practice my German. It’s been so long now.
        Enjoy your stay and good luck with your willpower ;-)

      • I’ve only been to Bonn once, in the footsteps of Beethoven. We also enjoyed a Christmas Market there on its opening night. Do you have snow in your corner of the world now? :)

      • It rains, and rains and rains some more right more. I am crossing my fingers for snow to arrive soon. We would need a bit of cold before it happens.
        How about where you are? Is it cold enough for snow yet?

  1. Hurrah! I have been missing your enchanting travel blogs. The painted houses and buildings are pure fantasy Tricia. Virginia

    • Virginia, it’s so nice to hear from you! I’ve missed being in touch with you and other kind readers (and catching up on your adventures) these past weeks.

      Another reader said that Oberammergau looks like a fairy tale village, and I must agree. This part of Germany is quite special.

      I am happy to be in touch again and hope you had a splendid weekend!

  2. Tricia, I know most of the buildings and I have been a few times @ that Baeckerei, eating Bienenstich oder Zwetschendatschi,. What a treat this post is, thank you.
    Hat es denn nicht schon geschneit, wie ich hoerte aus Garmisch-Burgrain , meine Tante die 100 Jahre alt ist lebt dort mit meiner Cousine. Wuensche Dir eine schoene gemuetliche Adventszeit. Servus dann, Cornelia

    • Cornelia, it’s funny that you should mention Bienenstich. I just saw some at a bakery today, and wondered exactly what it was. Your message prompted me to look it up. Like the Zwetschendatschi, it looks fabulous!

      Your aunt is correct that it has been snowing here. Just a few days after I took these photos, the winter wonderland began. Today, we had a blend of blue skies, sleet and snow. I think we’re heading to Garmisch in the coming days. Have you any requests for me to photograph while I’m there? :) Please send some sunshine our way!

      • Ah Bienenstich is a MUST to try it out you wil LOVE IT!
        If you ever get to a little sweet town called Bad Toelz about 40 kilometers from Garmisch, there is a Cafe I think it is called Dengler or something like that they have the world’s best Bienenstich, you see I am expert.
        Sunshine is an the way, after some rainy days the sun came ou today beautiful as ever in California. Garmisch has so many beautiful places like their little lakes must be beautiful now seeing them frozen, like Barmsee oder Pflegersee where you can see the Zugspitze, the highest mountain of Germany. Enjoy all the Christkindl Markets at tis time of the year..Servus as we Bavarians say

    • Thanks so much, Marianne! We are quite thrilled to be in such a picturesque place, where the people are so friendly, quick to smile, and willing to help.

    • The frescoes are fairy tale-esque! I could spend hours photographing them all, and often find myself craning my neck – my gaze upward -appreciating their artistry. It’s really a joy to be here!

  3. Tricia, absolutely beautiful pictures! Interesting summary throughout :)

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

    • Hi Judy, I’d be honored if you reblogged this link. :)
      Thank you for your kind comment too. I’ve gotten a bit behind in the blogosphere, but once I have more time, I look forward to catching up on your tempting recipes.

  4. Thanks, Tricia!  Beautiful pictures.  We miss you two.  Hope to make it to Oberammergau soon!  Love to you and Shawn!

    Merna

    ________________________________

    • Merna, how wonderful to hear from you! We miss you two as well (and dinners with your family and your grandpuppy). Here’s hoping that the rains have subsided in your part of the world. O-gau doesn’t look anything like it did in these early November pictures anymore. The mountains and village are dressed in snow. Give our best to Monty too, and looking forward to our next rendezvous.

  5. You’re living here for a while!!! How lovely. We drove through on a local bus on our way to Neuchwanstein last year. It was so pretty. I look forward to reading more.

  6. Tricia! Hi! Wow, what a lovely city to spend a few months in. Beautiful photos! Gluten free? How come? In Germany – so tough but I am sure home cooking will play a large role :)

    • Marina, thank you! Not sure if your sister made it to Germany during her grand tour of Europe?

      I’ve gone gluten-free with the hope that it might help reverse my thyroid condition. A lot of research seems to point to gluten as being the culprit with autoimmune conditions. I’ve been feeling great so far, except for when it comes to peeping into bakery store windows and wishing I could feast upon the delightful pastries and breads in this part of the world. In hindsight, Asia was much easier given all the rice and rice noodles. (We had to work pretty hard to locate whole wheat foods.) Interestingly enough, I hear that Italy is a gluten-free paradise! Who would’ve thought it would be with all the delicious pasta? I guess a large percent of their population is gluten intolerant/Celiac. As a result, all public places must offer non-gluten meals. The Italians also supposedly have baked with non-traditional flours for centuries.

      • I’m sad about your thyroid condition but I know that you will be doing right by your body so that’s the most important thing. Stay well Tricia!

    • Jo, I don’t know how I lost track of this comment! Are you more of a summer or winter person? Certainly, the village is beautiful year-round. Here’s hoping you can make it someday. If I’m in town, we can meet up for a cup of coffee or tea. :)

  7. Wonderful post. How exciting to spend the winter somewhere so beautiful. Oberammergau reminds me of the Chalet School series of books I devoured as a girl.

    • Rachael, many belated thanks! As I mentioned to Jo and Mark above, I’m not sure where this series of comments had disappeared? Growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, I hadn’t heard of the Chalet School series of books you mentioned. They sound as though they took place in such picturesque spots. :)

  8. Great work. I love the way that you’ve captured the spirit of the traditions of the townsfolk. The photographs bring back memories of when I visited Oberammergau. Really enjoyed this post. Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    • Konstantine, belated thanks, and sending you all the best for 2013 (though the year is not so new now). So sorry your comment was misplaced in the holiday shuffle!

      Did you visit this region during the summer months or the holidays?

      • INdeed I did visit this gorgeous town. I loved all the wood carving craftsmanship. It was absolutely amazing, and the painted murals around the buildings were also beautiful to behold.. I would love to experience the passion play. Take great care and God bless.

  9. Thoroughly enjoyed your photos of O’gau. I lived there 1950-1952 (as a child) and have visited 3 times since and am going back in September. It is truly a magical place and your pictures captured that quality.

    • Susan, ‘Vielen Dank’ for your kind comment. I would love to see your pictures from the ’50s. Several months ago, we enjoyed watching black & white video footage from the early 1900s. It was fascinating to see that not much has changed. In what part of the city did you live – in the American community?

      I’ll be lucky enough to be returning there soon, since my parents have chosen to retire there. I cannot wait to see the mountains with greenery on them, and the flower-boxes overflowing with geraniums. We spent a greater part of the winter there (Nov-Feb), so I’m now looking forward to summer hikes.

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